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Part of USS Amundsen: “On the Steps of the Palace”

Chapter 1 – ‘Lovely Day for a Walk in the Park’

Starfleet Command - San Francisco
January 2401
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January 17th, 2401 – 13:33 – Starfleet Command Main Campus – San Francisco, Earth

Clara took a deep breath, eyes closed, savoring the smell of fresh sea air. Over the last 10 months, she had relished the fact that she had access to fresh air. The last 2 years she had spent on the Hamburg had afforded her few opportunities to enjoy any sort of natural atmosphere beyond one or two days of shore leave on a planet. No matter how much she enjoyed being flung out into the far reaches of the galaxy, she would also miss being able to take in the natural sun and air any time she wished.

“I recognize that look on your face Clara. I hate to interrupt, but duty does still call.”

Clara’s eyes popped open at the sound of the voice as she turned on her heels to face it, an easy smile crossing her face as she saw who it was. “Vice Admiral, a pleasure to see you again.”

Elisabeth Basmanoff let out a barking laugh. “Over 20 years I’ve known you and now you start calling me by my rank?”

The two women had met during their second year at the academy and quickly became close friends. While both their careers had led them to starship command, Elisabeth’s had taken her to the admiralty long ago. Clara had been given the opportunity multiple times to leave the captain’s chair behind but never could bring herself to do it. 

Clara shrugged with a half smile. “We are standing at the heart of Starfleet Command, I figured a little pomp and circumstance was needed.”

Basmanoff rolled her eyes. “Yes, because pomp and circumstance are two words that describe me. You’re needed; Admiral Reltok has finally signed off on the Amundsen‘s first mission.”

“And here I thought I’d have time to take a walk in the park before duty called.” Clara tugged at her uniform top. “Lead the way…ma’am.”

With a sigh, the Vice Admiral began to walk away. “It’s a lovely day for a walk in the park, I’m sure, but you know just as well as I do that Reltok does not respond well if you are tardy to his meetings. Hell, the man doesn’t respond well to anything. The sooner he opts to retire back to Vulcan the better Starfleet will be.”

Clara held back the urge to let out a small chuckle. “Good to see those boxed pips are your collar haven’t changed your charming ability to just say anything. He just has a different idea of how Starfleet should operate; with this push to get back out into the galaxy, he knows he’s in the minority. He’ll fall in line or walk away, simple as that.” Basmanoff grumbled something under her breath that Clara didn’t bother to try and decipher.

“One can hope so.” Elisabeth reach into the back that was slung over her shoulder and pulled out a PADD. “Here, I was able to snag some basic info about where your ship is being sent.”

Clara took the PADD, skimming through it quickly. “Not much info here, looks like a pretty basic resupply run to Kelmoi III. Not that I mind a fairly quiet run but I had expected more; especially considering everything that has occurred over the last 12 months.” She handed the PADD back to Basmanoff. 

The Admiral paused, taking back the PADD. “This is precisely why I came to you before the meeting instead of letting you wander into Reltok’s office unaware. There is a tad more than meets the eye on this one.” She motioned toward a bench under the shade of a large tree. “Sit.”

With a nod Clara sat on the bench, the cool breeze winding itself through her shoulder-length hair. 

Elisabeth crossed her legs, her face scrunching up slightly, adding to the wrinkles already present. “It was decided to not send the Amundsen out to help with the multiple issues Starfleet is facing; we can’t risk any” Elisabeth paused. “issues interfering with the delicate work going on, not with Frontier Day approaching. Much of the admiralty is adamant that this year’s celebration not be marred in any controversy ahead of time but many are all but obsessed with it going off without a hitch. Once you prove your new crew can actually operate efficiently you’ll be assigned to the 4th Fleet. I do think there is more than meets the eye going on though.”

Clara leaned back on the bench, crossing her legs. “I’m not surprised, you often do.”

If Elisabeth noticed the comment, she didn’t show it. “The Kelmoi system is technically outside of Federation space. It sits in this odd corridor of space near the Tholian Assembly, Talarian Empire, and the Cardassians. In 2380 a rather large colony ship opted to settle in the system despite Starfleet objecting and warning them multiple times. They’ve managed to survive fairly well against the odds considering their neighbors.  However, when the Federation opted to pull back, we stopped sending supplies and patrols out to the area around 2390. They filed some pretty harsh objections with the Federation colonization program but it fell on deaf ears. They had left the safety of the Federation so now they were on their own. The last communication we got from them was harsh, to say the least.”

Clara sighed. “Just like every frontier colony just outside our space over the last decade or so. I take it I’ll be talking to a hostile audience once I get there?”

Elisabeth shrugged. “Perhaps. 3 weeks ago we did get a communication from them, the first one in 8 years, asking for aid. The follow-up messages we received were light on details but they are asking for food and building supplies after a recent natural disaster. Details are light beyond that.”

Clara nodded, trying to figure out when the whole ‘more than meets the eye’ concern was going to make itself known.

“There have been some concerning reports however. 2 weeks ago the S.S. Amelia Earhart limped back to space dock with reports of being attacked and raided by a rather powerful vessel that the crew reported was a Tholian vessel.”

Clara’s eyes widened. “Tholian? What the hell is a Tholian vessel doing attacking and raiding a cargo ship?”

Elisabeth shook her head. “It makes no sense. Unfortunately, their sensor logs were corrupted beyond repair so we can’t verify anything but Tholians don’t run around outside their territories and raid vessels. Yes, someone may stumble across one ship deploying an array to spy on their neighbors but when that happens they destroy the ship and go on their merry way. The chances of that report being accurate are slim to none”

The details started to click in Clara’s head. “You think someone is using a fake Tholian sensor reading to raid starships and colonies in the area? A smokescreen.”

“Yes, and a very dangerous one at that. If that ship were to attack a Starfleet vessel? It could start a war. I don’t think the Talarians would use that kind of deception, it does suit them, and I’m not inclined to think the Cardassian’s would be behind this. Things are still messy in the Union but they have no reason to provoke a war with the Tholians by pushing buttons in the region.”

Clara eyed her friend. “You think it’s someone not native to the region. Pirates thinking we won’t pay much attention that far out? Some new species?”

Elisabeth sighed, her hands rubbing her eyes. “All of the above or none of the above. We don’t know much about what lies beyond Cardassian and Tholian space; neither of them is particularly talkative. It could be some as-of-now unknown power mucking about or just a case of pirates playing a dangerous game. That’s what I need you to figure out. Reltok won’t give you this info, he thinks you going in with minimal information is going to help you and he honestly sees this as a waste of resources, but I think the man is an idiot who can’t let go of the past. I’m giving you a direct order to investigate the region and take all the time you need to figure out what, if anything is, going on.”

Clara took a deep sigh. “Understood. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

The Vice Admiral nodded, a small smile crossing her face. “Thank you, Clara. I can’t shake this feeling and I need someone I can trust on this. Things are a lot more volatile at Starfleet Command than most know.” The PADD in Elisabeth’s hand beeped, signaling that they were due to meet with the Admiral. She gave her friend a pat on the shoulder as she stood. “It’s best we go, we’ll be lucky to make it on time now.”

Clara stood, straggling her uniform top as she followed Elisabeth. “Perhaps I should have actually taken that walk in the park.”